Extreme Unction, Breviary Discussed

14th, 15th and 16th General Congregations
November 7, 9 and 10, 1962

A proposal that the name of Extreme Unction be changed to the Anointing of the Sick and discussion of possible changes in the breviary highlighted speeded-up sessions of the ecumenical council.

The speed-up during the 14th, 15th and 16th general meetings of the council (Nov. 7, 9, and 10) followed the permission granted by Pope John XXIII to the council Fathers to close debate by a vote.

After spending more than two weeks on the preface and first two chapters of the liturgical proposals which dealt with the liturgy in general and the Mass — the council completed discussion of the third chapter on the sacraments and sacramentals in less than a day (Nov. 7) and the fourth on the Divine Office and the breviary in less than two days (Nov. 9 and 10).

Archbishop Pericle Felici, council general secretary, announced that the last four of the eight chapters of liturgy proposals are to be dealt with as a whole instead of separately. They concern the liturgical year, vestments and altar ornaments, sacred music and sacred art.

It was also announced that the council topic following the liturgy will be Scripture and Tradition, called by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) the two sources of revelation.

At the 14th general session it was urged that the name of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction be changed because, the council press bulletin reported, “it is associated with the imminence of death by too many people.” It was recommended that its name be changed to the Anointing of the Sick.

Council Fathers declared, the bulletin said, that people be taught that Extreme Unction is not a sacrament of fear, but a comfort given not only for the purification of the soul but also for the healing of the body.

Other recommendations on the third chapter included a call for a clearer distinction between sacraments and sacramentals, actions or objects which in their performance or use have some resemblance to a sacrament.

A Vatican press office communique said that “one speaker suggested that it would seem useful to insert the renewal of the baptismal promises into the rite of Confirmation of those who have reached the age of reason so that there would be a greater awareness of the obligations which the sacrament imposes on those confirmed.

“Reference was also made to godparents who often do not have sufficient knowledge of their responsibilities.”

Several bishops, it was reported, discussed the use of vernacular languages in administering the sacraments and all were concerned with making the sacraments more understandable to the people.

During the 15th general meeting the council Fathers stressed the importance of the Divine Office and breviary for the spiritual life of priests, both diocesan and Religious.

The Divine Office is the service of prayer and praise, psalms, lessons and hymns which all priests and certain other clerics are obliged to recite daily. It is said or sung in choir by monks, friars, many nuns and some others, and laymen are urged to take part in it according to their ability and opportunity. The breviary is the book that contains everything necessary to enable a cleric to recite the Divine Office.

While some changes in the breviary were suggested, the press bulletin said that the council Fathers emphasized that every activity in a priest’s life is sterile when not maintained by prayer. The breviary was hailed as the highest and most efficacious prayer.

The press bulletin noted that among the opinions of the Divine Office given by council Fathers it was hailed as the principal priestly work; a main source of spiritual and pastoral action; a bond of union for all priests throughout the world; a source of comfort for all priests, especially those who have suffered imprisonment and persecution; the nourishment of the soul; the support of young priests and those weary with age and illness, and a mine of Scriptural and Patristic treasures.

Among the points that might be changed, speakers suggested, were the language used in the breviary, the composition of its parts, time divisions of recitation of the various parts, choice of new texts drawn from the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church, revision of certain lessons pertaining to lives of the saints and the manner of reciting the breviary in choir or in private.

Many speakers asked that the breviary be kept as is, since its present form is the result of many of the reforms of the past. It was also noted that Pope John issued reforms of the breviary in 1960.

Some speakers said they believe that Latin is the language most suited for the official prayers of the whole Church. Others asked for a reduction in the size of the breviary so as to give modern priests more time for the work of the apostolate.

Other council Fathers asked that the breviary be adapted more to the time demands and conditions of today’s priests, both in matters of language and length of the various parts of the breviary. There were also requests for more New Testament citations and elimination of some psalms of a historic nature that were inserted in earlier centuries and refer to the special character of the Jewish people.

It was also noted that reforms in recent years have been more reforms in rubrics — rules laid down for the way the Divine Office is recited — than in the actual composition of the breviary.

It was suggested that the council should just outline the general principles governing further changes, that the many specific problems must be solved at a lower level and that the variations found, for example, among various religious orders should be retained.

At the end of the 15th session the council Fathers sent a message of congratulations to Archbishop Alfonso Carinci, secretary emeritus of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, on his 100th birthday.

Discussion of the Divine Office and breviary was concluded at the 16th general session of the council.

The press bulletin reported that it was again argued that the Divine Office, after the Mass and the sacraments, is the greatest prayer to be found in the Church. No priest can do without the breviary, it was asserted.

The bulletin said that the importance of the breviary was stressed by many speakers opposed to reducing the time needed to recite the Divine Office so that priests would have more time for their pastoral ministry. It was stated that the 20 or 30 minutes that might be gained by cutting the breviary would be of little use to priests and that, on the contrary, it would do damage to their spiritual life.

Other speakers argued that if there are special circumstances which indicate the dispensation of a priest from reciting the breviary, these must be specifically spelled out and the bishop must be in agreement with them.

There were suggestions for revision of the psalms and calls for new translations which would be more faithful to the original text in a Latin more easily understood. There was also a plea for the completion of the revision of the psalter — the part of the breviary containing the psalms — which is currently under way.

In regard to the parts of Scripture found in the breviary, the bulletin again reported that there was a general feeling that more New Testament parts should be inserted with an eye to their formative and pastoral content and that portions of the Old Testament dealing with the historical struggles of the Jews be eliminated.

Several Fathers were reported as saying that, in regard to a restriction on the use of Latin in the breviary, it should be specified that this is not a question of a general faculty to be granted universally but one restricted to special cases. It would never apply to the recitation of the Divine Office in choir, they said.

Discussion of the fourth chapter on the liturgy was terminated by a vote of the Fathers and debate on the remaining four chapters was begun at the 16th session. First to speak on these chapters was Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, who had also spoken on the fourth chapter.

The 14th, 15th and 16th general meetings of the council were attended by 2,214, 2,216 and 2,172 Fathers respectively.

They were presided over by Norman Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia; Joseph Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, Germany; and Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, Archbishop of Palermo, Italy.

Opening Masses were offered by Archbishop Paul Nguyen Van Binh of Saigon, Vietnam; Archbishop Ettore Cunial, Vicegerent of Rome, and Auxiliary Bishop Francisco da Silva of Braga, Portugal. The Mass at the 16th session was celebrated in the Bragan Rite, which is used in that Portuguese See. Differing in only minor ways from the Roman Rite, it developed in the sixth century but was approved by the Holy See as recently as 40 years ago.

Besides Cardinal Spellman, council Fathers from the U.S. speaking on the Divine Office and breviary included Albert Cardinal Meyer, Archbishop of Chicago; Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg, Pa.; Bishop Joseph M. Marling, C.PP.S., of Jefferson City, Mo.; Bishop Francis F. Reh of Charleston, S.C., and Auxiliary Bishop Stephen A. Leven of San Antonio, Tex.

Also speaking on the fourth chapter were Paul Emile Cardinal Leger, Archbishop of Montreal; William Cardinal Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster, England; Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, Primate of Poland; Julius Cardinal Doepfner, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany; and Rufino Cardinal Santos, Archbishop of Manila, the Philippines.

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